By Ted Ryan
The fall of 2013 was an extremely successful season for every Champlain Valley Union High School sports team, including two Redhawk squads that captured state championships.
The fall of 2014 holds as much promise as last year, as the Redhawks launch their cross country, field hockey, football, and soccer seasons.
The natural evolution of rosters continues to produce an elite girls’ program and a very competitive boys’ team. The girls have won five straight state championships and were victorious in 10 of the past 11 state meets. The boys placed second a year ago.
Still, said Coach Scott Bliss, “What we want them to do is the best they can do, come to practice every day and prepare the best you can. If you do the best you can in a race, it’s successful.”
He added, “If we do that, I think we would be challengers for a possible girls’ championship and the boys should be in the top three.”
Five of the team’s top seven runners for the girls return in Sophia Gorman, Abby Keim, Emma Putre, Carly Neeld and Haley Harder. State JV champion Leah Berger should be ready to challenge the top five. Beyond those six, said Bliss, “We have a number of girls and we don’t really know who could possibly step up. We certainly have a number of options.”
On the boys’ side, sophomores Tyler Marshall, Calvin McClellan and Harken Spillane were integral parts of the team as freshman. Devon Cantor and Tyler Wong are seasoned runners. Burke Spillane and Elliot Eastman figure to be much stronger this year.
“Again we have a number of people who could possibly move into the final spot [for meets],” said Bliss.
Graduation took only six players from last year’s 8-3-4 team (lost in quarterfinals) but, as coach Kate McDonald said, they were “in pretty key positions.”
The number one challenge is in goal, where Tashia Pashby-Rockwood will move from backup to starter. Sami Harvey and Lily Schmoker are veterans up front and Katherine King will be the linchpin at midfield.
At this point, McDonald said, it’s too early in preseason to be certain which newcomers could make immediate contributions.
“We’re trying for more depth. Our goal is to have every player be a contributing player and rely on everyone to make a difference on the field,” McDonald said.
“I feel like half the team is new to me,” said McDonald, who said she hopes to get “the team to build as a new group together and then get a good run in the playoffs.”
After reaching the state semifinals in 2013, the Redhawks (7-3) face a rebuilding task under the direction of coach Jim Provost.
“We certainly lost a lot of pretty key kids,” he said. “We had star power. We don’t have kids like that. This year, we’re a pack-you-lunch, get-to-work, hungry team.”
Despite that challenge, Provost said, “I’d like to think we’ll be competitive and in the hunt” come playoff time.
Key returnees will include running back Jack Zullo, receiver Jack Austin and two-way lineman Matt Goldsborough, while Andrew Bartnick will take over at quarterback. Austin is also a defensive lineman along with Nick Fecteau while Will Potter is back at safety.
Recalling 2013, Provost pointed out, “I remember going into our first game and we were still trying to sift out our personnel. We had an injury to our quarterback just when we thought we had it figured out and it was back to the drawing board.”
“This year, we hope everything will be much more in line and we’ll be ready to start our first game and not have to throw out the baby with the bathwater,” he said, quickly adding, “barring injury.”
Coach Katie Mack has 12 seniors to help her in her first season and she said there’s no doubt regarding the players’ objective: A return to the state championship game with a victory this time.
“If you ask the boys, they’re really hungry to get back to the championship game. Last year they were disappointed,” said Mack of the Redhawks, who were 16-2 but dropped a 2-1 decision to Colchester in the finals.
Central midfielders Max Brown and Patrick McCue anchor the team. Brown can also move up front while McCue can be central defender. Deagan Poland brings experience at back and Oscar Kelly moves into the vacated goalkeeper spot.
Rebuilding the front line will be Mack’s primary task, but she has plenty of options. “We’re really looking to establish our goal scoring and we’ve got a lot of guys who are fast and physical,” she said. “We have a number of players who could be there.”
While the team members are focused on a return to the championship game, Mack said her goals are to “steadily improve as a team (and be) competitive in every game we play,
“I want us to play good soccer, keep possession and work as a team,” she said, adding that if the Redhawks succeed in that, they have an excellent chance of earning another title shot.
So what does second-year coach Stan Williams do as an encore to a perfect (18-0-0) season and a state championship?
Maybe reload for another title run.
“We had eight seniors graduate so it’s a new squad but we have 13 returners,” Williams said. “From a soccer talent standpoint with the returning kids and the newcomers, I think we’re right on par with where we were.”
The biggest task will fall to the returnees to fill the leadership roles vacated by graduates, a challenge that should be eased somewhat by the presence of several players with multiple years of varsity experience.
“It’s exciting for returners to think this is their team but it’s also more of a challenge than maybe they realize,” Williams said.
Four-year varsity player Paige DuBrul is a mainstay at defensive midfield. Audrey Alegretta is tentatively slated at midfield but has the ability to play well elsewhere. Defender Ellie Blake and back Mackenzie Buckman have plenty of game experience.
There’s no problem in goal with Maddie Turnau returning.
“Clearly the girls have high expectations and I’ve got a talented group. If I can click the right buttons, they can be competitive with anybody in the state,” Williams said.
By Ted Ryan